Thursday, June 8, 2023

Review: One Hundred Saturdays, by Michael Frank


One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World
, by Michael Frank. Memoir. Avid Reader Press, 2022.

One Hundred Saturdays is composed of 100 chapters representing a series of interviews writer Michael Frank conducted with Stella Levi, a nonagenarian New Yorker, formerly of a Jewish community based in Rhodes, Greece. Through the 100 chapters Michael lets Stella tell the story of her life- the community she grew up in, how it was impacted by World War 2, German occupation and its dissolution as the Jewish residents were deported en masse to Auschwitz. He follows her through the camps and finally to the United States, where she makes a life first in California and then in New York.

The book is peppered with illustrations by the great Maira Kalman which give the story an otherworldly feel. Frank extracts Levi's story piece by piece and succeeds in bringing it to life beautifully. We learn about the culture, traditions, languages and food of this varied and vibrant community. It proceeds more or less chronologically and we are treated to a really colorful story of a community lost to history. Her time in the camps is haunting, and her road to a new life in the United States is fascinating. The book is also a testament to the friendship and trust that Levi and Frank built. It reminds me a little of Lucette Lagnado's The Man in White Sharkskin Suit, a first-person memoir of growing up in Cairo around the same time, but this book has the added nuance of the interview-interviewee relationship and rapport.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in Jewish history, particularly Sephardic history, or in any of the many ways that World War 2 impacted people all over the world. It's a fascinating and moving portrait of a life and a lost world.

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

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